Chapter One

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May 5, 2023

"You'd be a queen."

Ife bit back a scoff. Although Zaire Akinyi was handsome, rich, and powerful, he was also clearly insane. He'd already claimed numerous "queens" since coming to power. She doubted many had been willing. Yes, their inner beasts were lions, but that didn't mean their human selves wanted to be part of a pride where only one man was their mate and not a true mate at that.

"I'm happy as a lowly doctor. But thank you for the offer," Ife told Mr. Akinyi firmly.

Zaire had invited her to an outdoor café in the inner city for lunch with the pretense of scouting Ife for a new hospital he was opening. The subject never presented itself. Instead, he pressured her about becoming one of his mates. Ife felt like a fool for accepting the invitation. She'd known his reputation before she'd agreed to join him.

Around them, a steady stream of people teemed. Some were civilians in their western clothes, going about their daily lives. Most were Zaire's military men and women decked out in full tactical gear. He was the First of Africa, which in the shifter world meant he was the alpha of alphas on the continent. But to humans, he was simply a well-known and beloved general.

Unbeknownst to the non-supernatural populace, Akinyi had grown rich off this third, apocalyptic world war. It sickened Ife that he'd profited while others suffered in the most horrific of ways. Mentally, she checked another imaginary mark in the con column regarding the man.

A frown appeared between the werelion's shade-covered eyes. Zaire always wore dark, mirrored sunglasses. It was as if he were hiding something, furthering Ife's distrust of the male. A split-second later, his features smoothed. "You should run with us tonight before you make a decision," he softly, yet forcibly urged.

With their lion forms so close, Ife knew it was madness to accept Zaire's offer. She was starting to believe he was feral and, therefore, dangerous as either man or beast. He'd likely make use of the full moon to track, pin, and mate her without consent.

Due to an ancient curse put upon their people by a long-dead witch, their beasts came to the fore each full moon. The change was forced on them at the zenith of each lunar cycle. In retaliation for the evil spell, the witch race had been shunned by the others ever since - much good it did Ife's own, the shifters.

Although Ife had been born into the Masai-Mara pride, when she came of age after her first shift at the age of thirteen, she didn't officially join. She was still but a child, too young to make such a monumental decision which would see her pledge life-long fealty to their alpha through blood magic. Added to that, it'd become an antiquated practice that children were no longer forced to endure until they knew their minds.

Four years later, Ife left for university in England. At the time, it felt like she had all the time in the world before settling down into the Masai-Mara pride. When war broke out while she was working on her doctorate, she further delayed her return to her family and country.

Ife had waited too long. Most, including her parents, were lost in the conflict. The Masai-Mara pride was no more. Now, other shifters considered her a loner. With no male family members or alpha to protect her, werelions such as Zaire saw her as fair game. It was why he viewed her as easy prey for a forced mating.

Fighting a shudder, Ife looked at the delicate watch on her wrist. A pinky ring in the shape of a lily flashed in the sunlight. It'd been a gift from her mother after Ife's first shift. Its golden light reflected back at her off of Zaire's darkly mirrored sunglasses.

"My break is over." Ife rose and picked up her freshly filled container of coffee. "I need to return to work."

The man across from Ife stood as she did. One of Zaire's lieutenants, a shifter she recognized but didn't know the name of, came to attention behind him. The First towered over her, flashing a bright white smile. "Become my queen, and you won't need to work," he tried one last persuasion.

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